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Published October 18th 2011

How Social Media is Changing Customer Profiling

Customer profiling is a valuable activity for marketers, but it can be all too easy to clumsily group people together by over-generalising and stereotyping. Can social media improve this?

In her TED talk back in December 2010, Johanna Blakeley talked about how social media research should allow companies to start targeting more effectively. The focus, she said, will shift away from traditionally used demographics like age; gender and location, towards determining what people are actually interested in – what their hobbies are and how they spend their time.

The hope is that more sophisticated customer profiling like this will reduce the tendency to pigeon-hole wildly varying individuals into narrow groups of target consumers. Better customer profiling and targeting should result in, not only improved marketing effectiveness, but a better experience for consumers as content and messaging becomes more tailored and specific to their interests and personality.

So how do we do this in practice? To make the most out of the research possibilities of social media, we need to:

  • Find online communities specialising in a certain subject – and then determine which other subjects are talked about in that community
  • Pick out examples of target-consumers – profile them on their interests and behavioural traits (both online and offline), diminishing the importance of age/gender etc
  • Avoid assuming stereotypical patterns of interests and look for evidence – e.g. will someone who likes war-based videogames necessarily be as interested in war-based movies?
  • Use the insights from the above to inform marketing strategy and campaign-planning

To an extent, of course we have to generalise and construct archetypes. Archetypes are an average, and the advantages and limitations of averages are clear.

The difference going forward with social media research is that averages will not be calculated from values relating to age or gender or geography or social status. They will be calculated from hobbies, interests, topics of conversation and other values which give a clearer picture of an individual’s true personality, thus making the marketing process more efficient for the marketer and less obtrusive for the consumer.

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